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When will sci-fi tech become real? Sooner than you think
The News - Weird-Strange
March 26, 2011
dr michio Kaku
Growing up, physicist Michio Kaku had two heroes. The first, predictably enough for the man who co-founded a branch of string theory, was Albert Einstein.

"Second?" he said. "I used to watch 'Flash Gordon.' "

Kaku, author of the new book "Physics of the Future: How Science Will Change Daily Life by 2100," combines those two loves on the Science Channel, where he hosts "Sci Fi Science" and a tech-themed segment introducing reruns of sci-fi series "Firefly," which airs at 10 p.m. ET Sundays.

"I was thrilled with the idea of starships, monsters from outer space, ray guns," he said. "After a while, I figured out that physics really makes science fiction possible. I figured out that the two passions of my life were the same thing."

We chatted with Kaku about futuristic technology from our favorite science-fiction movies and TV shows. He predicts that that much of it may well come true -- some even within our lifetimes. And while some of it seems far-fetched, he said to consider how our smartphones, laptops and space missions would have been viewed 100 years ago.

"If they were to see you with all of your wizardry, they would consider you a sorcerer to be able to summon up images from all over the world," he said. "But if someone could come today from the 21st century, what will our grandchildren think of us? In the 21st century, they will have the powers of gods." [ CNN.com ]

 
Level of iodine-131 in seawater off chart - 1,250 times above maximum limit
The News - Current Events
March 26, 2011

The level of radioactive iodine detected in seawater near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was 1,250 times above the maximum level allowable, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said Saturday, suggesting contamination from the reactors is spreading.

Meanwhile, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. turned on the lights in the control room of the No. 2 reactor the same day, and was analyzing and trying to remove pools of water containing radioactive materials in the turbine buildings of reactors 1 to 3.

The iodine-131 in the seawater was detected at 8:30 a.m. Friday, about 330 meters south of the plant's drain outlets. Previously, the highest amount recorded was about 100 times above the permitted level. If a person drank 500 ml of water containing the newly detected level of contamination, it would be the equivalent of 1 millisievert of radiation, or the average dosage one is exposed to annually, the NISA said.

"It is a substantial amount," NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama told a news conference. 

 
Gaps in US radiation monitoring system revealed
The News - Current Events
March 25, 2011
radiation monitor us devices

Part of the nation's key radiation warning system was out of service as the U.S. braced for possible exposure to the fallout from a nuclear crisis in Japan.

While no dangerous levels of radiation have reached American shores, the test of the monitoring network has spurred some lawmakers to question whether it can adequately safeguard the country against future disasters.

The system is crucial because federal officials use the monitors' readings to validate the impact of nuclear incidents, then alert local governments and the public. In California, home to two seaside nuclear plants located close to earthquake fault lines, federal officials said four of the 11 stationary monitors were offline for repairs or maintenance last week. The Environmental Protection Agency said the machines operate outdoors year-round and periodically need maintenance, but did not fix them until a few days after low levels of radiation began drifting toward the mainland U.S.

About 20 monitors out of 124 nationwide were out of service earlier this week, including units in Harlingen, Tex. and Buffalo, N.Y. on Friday, according to the EPA. [ WSJ ]

 
Swallowed by the Sea
The News - Natural Disasters
March 25, 2011
tsunami atlantis disaster

As Japan reels from the tsunami, archeologists claim to have discovered the lost city of Atlantis, a fabled place built - like much of the world - in the crosshairs of nature.

To the grim list of cities and places wrecked and ruined by the indescribably awful majesty of earthquake-powered tsunamis—Sendai and Fukushima most recently, Banda Aceh in Sumatra six years ago, the west of Java more than a century back—must now be added one that is more famous and enigmatic than all the rest: Atlantis.

For it now turns out that the island-city that for centuries has captured the public imagination as the world’s oldest philosophical wonderland may well have existed after all—and it may have done so right where it has long been thought to have been sited: close to the eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean. [ NEWSWEEK.com ]

 
A Looming Disaster: Europe
The News - Economy
March 25, 2011
looming siaster japan economy europe

As a nation reels from an earthquake’s destruction, an entire continent faces an economic crisis of its own.

While the world has been transfixed with Japan, Europe has been struggling to avoid another financial crisis. On any Richter scale of economic threats, this may ultimately count more than Japan’s grim tragedy. One reason is size. Europe represents about 20 percent of the world economy; Japan’s share is about 6 percent. Another is that Japan may recover faster than is now imagined; that happened after the 1995 Kobe earthquake. But it’s hard to discuss the “world economic crisis” in the past tense as long as Europe’s debt problem festers—and it does.

Just last week, European leaders were putting the finishing touches on a plan to enlarge a bailout fund from an effective size of roughly €250 billion (about $350 billion) to €440 billion ($615 billion) and eventually to €500 billion ($700 billion). By lending to stricken debtor nations, the fund would aim to prevent them from defaulting on their government bonds, which could have ruinous repercussions. Banks could suffer huge losses on their bond portfolios; investors could panic and dump all European bonds; Europe and the world could relapse into recession. [ NEWSWEEK.COM ]

 
From Japan's damaged nuclear complex: radiation and fear
The News - Current Events
March 25, 2011
japan nuclear radiation fear disaster
In the wake of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the powerful tsunami that followed, the stricken nuclear reactors at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant released not one but two powerful and invisible forces: radiation and fear of radiation.

Both can spread quickly, and with insidious stealth. They permeate walls, make no distinction between rich and poor, and are particularly hard on children.

And elevated levels of either can have long-term health consequences.

To be sure, to those living close to the Fukushima power plant or who have been told to avoid contaminated water, milk and spinach, the health threat posed by radiation is very real. And the ultimate scope of the accident is still unclear.

But as events continued to unfold last week, psychologists and engineers alike noted that fear of radiation had spread farther and more virulently than has radiation itself. And it may be just as dangerous. [ LA TIMES ]
 
44% of Americans See Natural Disasters as Sign of End Times
The News - Religion
March 25, 2011
america natural disaster god religion

According to just over half of Americans, God is in control of everything that happens on Earth. But slightly fewer are willing to blame an omnipotent power for natural disasters such as Japan's earthquake and tsunami.

A new poll finds that 56 percent of Americans agree or mostly agree that God is in control of all Earthly events. Forty-four percent think that natural disasters are or could be a sign from the Almighty. The fire-and-brimstone version of a vengeful God is even less popular in America: Only 29 percent of people felt that God sometimes punishes an entire nation for the sins of a few individuals.

Nonetheless, the desire to turn to God for an explanation after a disaster is a widespread human urge, said Scott Schieman, a sociologist at the University of Toronto who studies people's beliefs about God's influence on daily life. "There's just something about the randomness of the universe that is too unsettling," Schieman told LiveScience. "We like explanations for why things happen … many times people weave in these divine narratives." [ LIVE SCIENCE ]

 
Many killed in Myanmar earthquake
The News - Natural Disasters
March 25, 2011
70 killed myanmar earthquake disaster

More than 70 people have died after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Myanmar-Thailand border area.

More than 70 people have been killed and 100 injured after a strong earthquake struck northeastern Myanmar near its border with Thailand, officials said, adding, the toll may rise.

Myanmar state radio announced on Friday that 74 people had been killed and 111 injured in the quake, but was updating the total frequently. It said that 390 houses, 14 Buddhist monasteries and nine government buildings were damaged, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The 6.8-magnitude quake shook buildings as far away as the Thai capital Bangkok, almost 800km from the epicentre, on Thursday night.

No tsunami warning was issued after the quake as US seismologists said it was too far inland to generate a devastating wave in the Indian Ocean.

 
Oldest US nuclear reactor: a 'disaster' in waiting?
The News - Current Events
March 25, 2011
us nuclear disaster prediction
A sleepy New Jersey town has popped onto people's radar screens because it has the oldest running nuclear power plant in the United States -- and, some say, the most dangerous.

Named for a Revolutionary War general, Lacey is the kind of American town that few from outside the seaside settlement knew much about before the earthquake and tsunami in Japan triggered a nuclear crisis.

Down the road from the 1950s-style diner and across from the bridge that locals use as a fishing pier stands the Oyster Creek nuclear plant.

It uses a GE Mark I Boiling Water reactor identical to those that lost power at Japan's Fukushima plant in the March 11 earthquake and then was struck by a tsunami that knocked out its backup generators, causing reactor cooling functions to fail. [ YAHOO ]

 
Nuclear storm warnings?
The News - War-Draft
March 25, 2011

White House Science Advisor John Holdren and Sir John Beddington, Science Advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a recent joint article "Celestial Storm Warnings" published in the New York Times, warned that a solar flare from the Sun could cause a great geomagnetic storm, with catastrophic consequences for the United States and the world.  A great geomagnetic storm would generate a powerful electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could destroy electronic systems and collapse all the critical infrastructures--power grids, communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water--that sustain modern civilization, and the lives of millions.  Holdren and Beddington write reassuringly that "work to protect our societies is well underway."  

Unfortunately, the truth is that work to protect our societies has not even begun.  Those of us who have dedicated careers to protecting the American people from an EMP catastrophe know that no actual technical work is yet underway to physically protect the national power grid from EMP.  We are running out of time to make this happen.  As Holdren and Beddington note, the solar maximum, and increased possibility of a great geomagnetic storm, is fast approaching, now less than a year away. 

The press remains largely in the dark or indifferent to the EMP threat.  For example, on February 15 (the same day as a worrisome solar flare that fortunately missed the Earth) a new Congressional Caucus convened for the first time--the Congressional Caucus on EMP.  And the EMP Caucus rolled out a newly minted bill--the SHIELD Act (HR 668).  Both the Caucus and the SHIELD Act are intended to protect the U.S. national power grid from an EMP event generated by the Sun or  by hostile actors. [ TheHill.com ]

 
Japan reactor core may be leaking radioactive material
The News - Climate-Environment
March 25, 2011
japan nuclear reactor leaking
Authorities in Japan raised the prospect Friday of a likely breach in the all-important containment vessel of the No. 3 reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a potentially ominous development in the race to prevent a large-scale release of radiation.

Contaminated water likely seeped through the containment vessel protecting the reactor's core, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Three men working near the No. 3 reactor Thursday stepped into water that had 10,000 times the amount of radiation typical for a nuclear plant, Nishiyama said. An analysis of the contamination suggests "some sort of leakage" from the reactor core, signaling a possible break of the containment vessel that houses the core, he said.

The workers have been hospitalized, according to the agency. [ CNN.com ]

 
Nuclear Meltdown : The Manhattan Scenario
The News - Science-Astronomy
March 24, 2011
nuclear meltdown manhattan scenario disaster

The two operating nuclear reactors known as Indian Point are situated in Buchanan, N.Y. - just 35 miles from midtown Manhattan. More than 17 million people live within 50 miles of these plants.

How might a meltdown start? An earthquake, obviously, is among the scenarios. Others include various forms of terrorist attacks. Regardless of the trigger, a meltdown would follow several specific stages.

First, as cooling water dissipated from the reactor core, intensely hot radioactive pellets in the fuel rods would overheat and swell, and their zirconium cladding would oxidize and rupture. Then the pellets themselves would begin to melt. (Many details described here reflect a study of Indian Point by Edwin S. Lyman.)

If the molten fuel core were to hit the bottom of the reactor vessel, it would trigger massive steam explosions that could blow the reactor vessel apart. The eventual distribution of radioactive elements would depend on several factors, including the weather. Both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency require an evacuation plan for a 10-mile radius of the reactor: an off-site alarm set to go off 30 minutes after an event began would allow time for the operators to determine the extent of the damage. That would leave 78 minutes from the alarm’s sounding to the beginning of the radioactive release.

 
Doomsday bunker sales on the rise
The News - Current Events
March 24, 2011
doomsday bunker disaster scenario
A devastating earthquake strikes Japan. A massive tsunami kills thousands. Fears of a nuclear meltdown run rampant. Bloodshed and violence escalate in Libya.

And U.S. companies selling doomsday bunkers are seeing sales skyrocket anywhere from 20% to 1,000%.

Northwest Shelter Systems, which offers shelters ranging in price from $200,000 to $20 million, has seen sales surge 70% since the uprisings in the Middle East, with the Japanese earthquake only spurring further interest. In hard numbers, that's 12 shelters already booked when the company normally sells four shelters per year.

"Sales have gone through the roof, to the point where we are having trouble keeping up," said Northwest Shelter Systems owner Kevin Thompson.

 
Worst Texas Drought in 44 Years Hits Wheat, Beef Supply
The News - Climate-Environment
March 24, 2011
texas drought natural disaster

The worst Texas drought in 44 years is damaging the state’s wheat crop and forcing ranchers to reduce cattle herds, as rising demand for U.S. food sends grain and meat prices higher.

Texas, the biggest U.S. cattle producer and second-largest winter-wheat grower, got just 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) of rain on average in the five months through February, the least for the period since 1967, State Climatologist John Nielsen- Gammon said. More than half the wheat fields and pastures were rated in poor or very poor condition on March 20.

Dry conditions extending to Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado may cut crop yields in the U.S. , the world’s largest exporter, as too much moisture threatens fields in North Dakota and in Canada. Wheat futures in Chicago are up 50 percent in the past year, after drought in Russia and floods in Australia hurt output and sent global food prices surging. Wholesale beef reached a record this week, and the U.S. cattle herd in January was the smallest since 1958.

 
Japan disaster: over 27,000 dead or missing
The News - Natural Disasters
March 24, 2011

More than 27,000 people are officially dead or missing after the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11th.

According to the National Police Agency, 9,811 people are confirmed dead as of 9 PM on Thursday. The agency says it has received reports of 17,541 people missing. Most of the dead and missing are from the 3 hardest hit prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima.

The number of confirmed deaths in Fukushima totals 839, far smaller than the more than 5,800 in Miyagi and about 3,000 in Iwate. This may be due to the suspension of search operations in areas within 20 kilometers of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, because of radiation leaks. Figures appear almost certain to rise because of the absence of family members to report the dead and missing. In some areas, entire families appear to have perished in the tsunami that followed the magnitude 9.0 quake.
 
Japan's police say disaster death toll tops 9,500
The News - Natural Disasters
March 23, 2011
Japan's police agency says more than 9,500 people are dead after an earthquake and tsunami. Another 16,000 are missing.

Those tallies are likely to overlap, but a police spokesman from one of the of the hardest-hit prefectures, Miyagi, estimates that the deaths will top 15,000 in that region alone. Police in other devastated areas declined to estimate eventual tolls, but said the confirmed deaths in their areas already number about 3,800.

The National Police Agency said the overall number of bodies collected so far stood at 9,523, while 16,094 have been listed as missing.

 
Alien life sucked into a black hole after 'white dwarf hypernova' star explosion?
The News - Science-Astronomy
March 23, 2011
hypernova star explosion black hole alien life

The lack of evidence proving the existence of aliens is known to scientists as the ‘Great Silence’.

They have long been baffled how- despite years of searching – there has been no confirmation of life beyond our planet.

But now some astronomers believe the answer may lie in the destructive force of exploding stars – and claim ET may simply have been wiped out.

In particular, a phenomenon known as a white dwarf hypernova could have sucked alien life into a black hole.

And because this process – when an exceptionally large white dwarf star, a collapsed remnant of an elderly star, becomes unstable and explodes – has occurred several times over millions of years, it is possible that life may have wiped out more than once.

Scientists also believe there is possibility we on Earth too could be wiped out by the process of gamma ray bursts. [ DAILYMAIL UK ]

 
Earthquake leaves Tokyo waiting for 'big one'
The News - Natural Disasters
March 23, 2011
earthquake tokyo big one disaster

Earthquake-prone Tokyo has been braced for the “Big One” for decades and when a huge tremor set buildings swaying wildly on March 11, many residents of the Japanese capital thought it had finally arrived.

It had not. Although the magnitude 9 quake was the strongest in Japan’s recorded history, its epicentre was hundreds of kilometres away in the seas off the north-eastern coast. And while the quake triggered a tsunami that scourged coastal communities, damage in Tokyo and its surrounding areas was slight.

Yet the unfolding disaster in the north-east and a parallel crisis at a quake-crippled nuclear power plant offer the starkest of reminders of the need for the capital to do more to ensure it is prepared for any similar seismic assault.

The human and economic cost of a Tokyo earthquake could well exceed the ferocious toll taken by this month’s earthquake and tsunami, which is feared to have killed more than 22,000 people, with about 270,000 still in refuge centres on Tuesday. [ FT.COM ]

 
Alien Earths: 2 Billion in Our Galaxy Alone
The News - Science-Astronomy
March 22, 2011
alien earth earthlike planets

Roughly one out of every 37 to one out of every 70 sunlike stars in the sky might harbor an alien Earth, a new study reveals.

These findings hint that billions of Earthlike planets might exist in our galaxy, researchers added.

These new calculations are based in data from the Kepler space telescope, which in February wowed the globe by revealing more than 1,200 possible alien worlds, including 68 potentially Earth-size planets. The spacecraft does so by looking for the dimming that occurs when a world transits or moves in front of a star.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., focused on roughly Earth-size planets within the habitable zones of their stars — that is, orbits where liquid water can exist on the surfaces of those worlds. After the researchers analyzed the four months of data in this initial batch of readings from Kepler, they determined that 1.4 to 2.7 percent of all sunlike stars are expected to have Earthlike planets — ones that are between 0.8 and two times Earth's diameter and within the habitable zones of their stars.
 
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